A FABLE has been retold for centuries with several variations. Some say it was first translated into English from Sanskrit, others say it was originally a Native American tale, while others mistakenly attribute it to Aesop. Whatever its origins, the basic story goes like this:
A scorpion stands at the edge of a river wanting to cross, but frustrated by its inability to swim. Along comes a turtle, and the scorpion asks for a ride across the river on its back.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” says the turtle. “You’ll sting me while we’re swimming, and I’ll drown.”
“Come now,” rejoins the scorpion, “there’s no logic to that. If I stung you and you drowned, I would drown too.”
The turtle admits the scorpion has a point. “OK, hop on.”
Halfway across, the scorpion stings the turtle after all, mortally wounding it. As they both sink to their deaths at the bottom of the river, the turtle asks the scorpion, “Why did you do it? You said it would be illogical to sting me.”
“It has nothing to do with logic,” the scorpion replied. “It’s just my nature to sting.”
It should be easy to recognize the fable’s reenactment in the shabby drama of the past week, when Prime Minister Hatoyama “The Turtle” Yukio fired Fukushima “The Scorpion” Mizuho, the Minister for Political Pandering to Women, for refusing to sign a Cabinet declaration reaffirming the agreement to move the U.S. Marine airbase at Futenma to Henoko.
Well, what did the turtle expect of the scorpion? The Social Democrats led by Fukushima Mizuho have floated so far from the mother ship they’re in a different political galaxy. (One of their favorite policies is unarmed neutrality à la Costa Rica.) He should have realized from the start that including them in a coalition with the intent of serious governance would prove fruitless. The SDPJ walked out on the first non-LDP government run from behind the scenes by Ozawa Ichiro more than 15 years ago, and sure enough, history is about to repeat itself as farce once again. Outcomes such as these are inevitable for the numbers games Mr. Ozawa plays when assembling oil-and-water coalitions, particularly when the government has to compete in the major leagues of international diplomacy and geopolitical strategy rather than the Nagata-cho sandlot.
The SDPJ contributes nothing except a sense of grievance and a handful of seats in the upper house, and their only weapon is the gesture politics of the drawing room. (Ms. Fukushima is the 15th wealthiest member of the Diet, with declared assets of JPY 138,940,000, or more than $US 1.5 million. She’s not the first leftist to get rich off the free market system while trashing it in public.) The party’s Japanese-language website clearly states their opposition to the American alliance, despite the bologna they feed visiting American journalists. Their leader has been threatening to make a Grand Gesture for more than six months, and she finally got the chance she’s been waiting for.
For the turtle’s part, Mr. Hatoyama has neither the nerve nor the political skill to change the minds of either the Americans or Ms. Fukushima about an agreement that took more than a decade to hammer out. Was the prime minister swimming out of his depth when he delayed a decision on the base policy to work out a deal with people uninterested in bargaining, or was it a Machiavellian scheme? Recall that last December Mr. Hatoyama was on the verge of a decision probably much like the one he finally made, until the SPDJ leader started making threats in public and private. Aware there would be no convincing the inconvincable, he put off the inevitable until the end of the Diet session and six weeks before the upper house election. Instead of buying time to change minds, he bought time for the pantomime of showing people, particularly in Okinawa, that he really, really tried. Meanwhile, Mr. Ozawa was busy installing the party’s electoral machinery nationwide.
Granted, such political calcuation is probably beyond the prime minister, but it isn’t beyond Mr. Ozawa. Whatever it is they were trying to accomplish, the government has wasted six months of the nation’s time that would have been better spent on other matters.
Meanwhile, the scorpion behaved as a scorpion. Ms. Fukushima was the only one in the Japanese government to have stood on her principles, such as they are, throughout the entire charade. She finally said she would refuse to sign the Cabinet order approving the new agreement with the United States and try to change the prime minister’s mind from within. When asked at a news conference whether she might resign, Ms. Fukushima answered:
I haven’t thought about it at all.
Viewed from her perspective, why should she think about it? She hasn’t changed a whit. Mr. Hatoyama is the one who broke his campaign promise, and, depending on who you think is lying, the three-party coalition agreement. Meanwhile, she’s the lead story on every newscast. It’s not as if anyone would take the party seriously otherwise.
It would be unfair to say there hasn’t been any consistency within the Hatoyama Administration, however. Their Cabinet has always been full of loose cannons ready to open fire on their comrades, regardless of the issue. This time, Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi said Ms. Fukushima should resign if she didn’t agree with the decision. He added:
Opposing the decision while staying in the Cabinet threatens the viability of the Cabinet….Refusing to sign the Cabinet declaration is an expression of distrust in the prime minister.
That’s an understandable position, though it does assume scorpions have a sense of honor. It’s the nature of politics that all governments have to admit failure and settle for bitter solutions they’d hoped to avoid. The members of those governments who find the solutions intolerable should withdraw. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi saw things differently:
That is an improper statement for (a) Cabinet (member).
In other words, it’s just fine for Ms. Fukushima–whose title was State Minister in Charge of Consumer Affairs and the Declining Birthrate–to fan the flames in a six-month agitprop offensive against the original agreement even though it’s unrelated to her official duties. Meanwhile, Mr. Kitazawa, who as defense minister actually does have responsibility for any matter related to American bases in Japan, is told to zip those loose lips lest they sink the ship.
The next act in this vaudeville revue will be an encore of gesture games from the SDPJ. Senior party members, worried that Ms. Fukushima’s attitude might force them out of the coalition, have huddled several times since the 27th to forge a consensus. The party’s handful of lower house members reportedly met with the boss to change her mind, but had no more success than the prime minister. When the media asked her about possible divisions within the party, she denied it:
That’s absolutely unthinkable. This was decided unanimously without objections.
She added that she didn’t make the decision as party leader. Rather, she claimed, the decision was made as a party.
Meanwhile, the SDPJ members will meet again on the 30th to really decide this time—unless they’ve already done it. Earlier this week, party policy head Abe Tomoko said:
We’ve conducted simulations of our response as a party if the prime minister removes her from the Cabinet. We’ve decided what we will do.
Added another party official: “If she’s fired, the option to stay in the coalition no longer exists.”
One would hope so. When your party chief has been kicked out of the Cabinet, isn’t that the cue to look at your watches and say sorry, but it really is time to go?
This group, however, is every bit as consistent as the Cabinet in its inconsistency. Both the party’s vice chair, Mataichi Seiji, and Ms. Abe are thought to prefer staying in the government and keeping the Cabinet seat warm, despite the leader’s claims of unanimity. There are reports that some in the party think Ms. Fukushima should be dumped as party head, and it’s generally assumed they’re talking about Ms. Abe.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hirano will temporarily assume the responsibility for Ms. Fukushima’s Cabinet portfolio, but the position is so inconsequential he’s unlikely to be overworked. If Ms. Fukushima accomplished anything in her nominal job during the past eight months, it escaped the notice of the rest of the country, and she still had plenty of free time to get involved with national defense issues.
Rumor has it that Mr. Hatoyama decided to fire her because doing so would demonstrate his firmness and stanch his decline in public support. His performance has been so inept, however, that even Viagra would be unlikely to lift his sagging fortunes. In any event, his surfeit of apologies at the news conference announcing the firing nullifies the effect he sought. Strong leaders don’t say they’re sorry when dumping people who don’t get with the plan.
Some in the DPJ are grumbling that Mr. Hatoyama should himself be sacked for his handling of the entire affair. That would have him leaving office at just about the time political handicappers thought he might. Journalist and author Hasegawa Yukihiro says in this week’s edition of the Shukan Gendai that a Finance Ministry source told him the ministry would be fine with Finance Minister Kan Naoto as the next prime minister. Since Mr. Kan has already made his peace with Ozawa Ichiro, he’s got the stamp of approval from everyone who calls the shots in the DPJ.
This story differs from the original fable in two respects, however. The first is that Mr. Hatoyama, as the turtle, was never going to make it across the river anyway, even without a scorpion riding on his shell. He’s a poor swimmer and lacks a sense of direction.
The second is that Ms Fukushima, as the scorpion, would have been satisfied sink or swim.
The American man of letters and public intellectual Henry Adams once wrote, “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.” To confirm that statement, all one has to do is look at the eyes of Fukushima Mizuho.
Sometimes it is possible to judge a book by the cover, and those with the eyes to see should long ago have recognized the malice reflected from the window of her soul. Late last week, when the TV networks were allowed their video ops at the start of Cabinet meetings, she overlaid that predatory arachnid glare with an undisguised and insufferable smirk.
That scorpion never intended to cross the river. She was just looking for something to sting.
Former Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi, now running for an upper house PR seat as a member of the Spirit of Japan Party, which he helped found, got straight to the point about Ms. Fukushima’s behavior.
Going to Okinawa (to hold a conference with the governor to discuss ways to fight the agreement) is not at the level of discord in the Cabinet. It is anti-goverment activity.
It might be worth the time of an ambitious journalist to check out Ms. Fukushima’s travel arrangements. She had no official business to conduct as a Cabinet minister when she met with the governor in Okinawa. Did the government pay for it? Did she or her party pay for it? Or did she find some excuse to drop in a few words along the way about consumer affairs or the birthrate to give herself plausible deniability?